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Feeding Behaviour of Vervet Monkeys on Acacia tortilis and Acacia xanthophloea: With Special Reference to Reproductive Strategies and Tannin Production

R. W. Wrangham and P. G. Waterman
Journal of Animal Ecology
Vol. 50, No. 3 (Oct., 1981), pp. 715-731
DOI: 10.2307/4132
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4132
Page Count: 17
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Feeding Behaviour of Vervet Monkeys on Acacia tortilis and Acacia xanthophloea: With Special Reference to Reproductive Strategies and Tannin Production
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Abstract

(1) The feeding behaviour of adult female vervet monkeys belonging to three social groups was observed over 9 months from 07.00 to 12.00 hours. Products from two Acacia spp., A. tortilis and A. xanthophloea, were found to account for over 50% of all feeding time. (2) Food preferences were determined from data on time spent eating different parts of the Acadia spp. in relation to their availability, the length of feeding bouts, and the difference in feeding time of high- and low-ranking animals. Measures of food preference were generally consistent and suggested that A. tortilis was preferred for immature leaves, seeds, fruits and flowers, and A. xanthophloea for gum. However, A. tortilis products were less often available than those of A. xanthophloea. (3) Both Acacia spp. were found to produce hydrolysable and condensed tannins. Different parts of the two Acacia spp. and several other food plants were assayed for their content of phenolic compounds and specifically for condensed tannins. Analysis of qualitative and quantitative data suggested that condensed tannins formed the majority of total phenolics in the Acacia spp. None of the other food plants appeared to produce tannins. (4) Differences were found in the intra-plant distribution of total phenolics and condensed tannins in A. tortillis and A. xanthophloea. Acacia tortilis tended to have less of these compounds in its floral parts and bark, but much more in its gum. The hypothesis that the distribution of phenolic compounds between the Acacia spp. was related to their reproductive strategies was examined. (5) Vervet food selection among Acacia plant parts appeared to be related to levels of total phenolics and condensed tannins. For vervet group C, which had ready access to all plant parts of both species, a significant negative correlation was found between food preference and phenol/tannin content of available plant parts. In view of the relative importance of condensed tannins among the total phenolics of the Acacia spp. the most likely interpretation for these observations is that condensed tannins are acting as major feeding deterrents. (6) Although tannin distribution was negatively related to food selection by vervets monkey diets did include significant amounts of tannin-containing items. Monkey faeces contained detectable amounts of condensed tannins. Tannins in the diet may have contributed to nutritional stress during a period of water shortage when severe mortality occurred.

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